I started running the first time I thought I spotted cellulite on the back of my legs in 6th grade P.E. Cellulite, an evil word that infiltrated my vernacular through a stolen conversation between my two older sisters—who, for the record, did not have cellulite on the back of their legs, either.
This self-deprecating illusion haunted me through my adolescence and into adulthood. At age 25, I was a slim, Gap size 6, but I still couldn’t squeeze my quadzilla thighs into a snazzy pair of slacks at Bebe—unless, of course I was willing to double that size 6.
Years later I would uncover the truth—Bebe is a fashion house for size zero circus performers on stilts.
Shouldn’t I have been suspicious that there were no pictures of my mother with child? What are the odds after four pregnancies, not a one exists? No matter. I was my own person…a registered nurse, for Pete’s sake. Genetics would have no influence on the quality and quantity of food I was going to put in my mouth during pregnancy.
“McDonalds value meal #1—Big Mac, large fries, and a Diet Co…oops, I can’t have caffeine, so make it a chocolate shake…and Super-size it!”
“Hey, who ate the last cherry Pop Tart? Sweet, I forgot I bought 3 boxes.”
“Honey, on your way home from the restaurant, can you drop off a banana cream pie for my coworkers and me…okay, just for me?”
I ate whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. I ate all night long—sometimes to stay awake at work, sometimes to fall back to sleep at home. I ate breakfast at work, and breakfast at home. I ate lunch while out shopping for dinner. I ate dinner before work and dinner while at work (which completed the circle, just three hours before my first breakfast). I even ate when I felt nauseated—a wasted opportunity for conservation.
Did I mention I stopped running 30 miles a week? Cold turkey. A problem that evolved into a sizeable big-booty-Judy within the first month.
I was growing right along, feeling strong, excited to look pregnant and wear maternity clothes, including those heinous frocks that made me look like Holly Hobby on steroids. I was euphoric. Then something terrible happened—my first trimester doctor’s appointment.
“Egads! Twenty-eight pounds!”
The look on my doctor’s face said it all. The lecture was coming, hard and fast. My fight or flight instinct was telling me to fly but I couldn’t make a run for it—I was wearing one of those paper drapes that only covers your top half and the rest of me was naked under the sheet.
“It’s all about choices,” she said diplomatically. “You only need about 300 extra calories a day, so don’t go eating Big Macs all the time.”
Had she been following me on my daily excursions to the Golden Arches?
Deep down, I knew I wasn’t eating healthy, but the fat-salt-sugar fusion was beyond delicious; it was divine! My baby needed it, right? Like an addict, I remained happily satiated in denial, creating flexible boundaries to justify my vice. And inverse relationships can be a beautiful thing. With every pound I gained, I lowered my standard of comparison, finally settling with my husband.
Surely I would never outweigh his strong, fullback physique…right?
The day I delivered my beautiful, healthy baby girl, I weighed four pounds less than my husband on the hospital scale, which usually added seven to nine pounds to whatever my bathroom scale read. Not too shabby, I thought. I did not echo those sentiments two-months later when I had only lost nine pounds.
I was breast feeding, pumping between feedings even, waiting for those extra pounds to fall off, but the only thing falling was my flabby gut over the waist of my jeans.
Ironically, I didn’t love breastfeeding. The fact that I lasted two months was the direct result of a conspiracy between the doctor, my husband, and the damned La Leche League—two of who had never breast-fed.
They rallied, cheered and told me to keep milking them utters, promising that weight loss was on the horizon. But as fate would have it, my daughter was just as unhappy as I was.
Eighteen poopy diapers a day is not normal.
I stopped nursing; optimistic that something positive would come of my daughter having to drink toxic baby formula. Maybe growing a third eye in the middle of her forehead wasn’t such a bad thing. Maybe I would be less glutinous with food. Month three: a lack-luster twelve pounds of total weight loss. Drats!
During my exile in maternity clothes (nothing sexy about Holly Hobby), the style of jeans changed. Hope! I ventured to the mall to sample the new look, which was actually an old look from the seventies that I rocked quite well in my kindergarten picture—perhaps I would rock it again.
But $175 designer, low-rise, skinny flares do not hide 40 pounds!
I was determined to diet. And the cashier at Target knew my diet was a bust before it began. A case of Slimfast in the same cart as a bag of Doritos and box of chocolate covered cherries is an omen of failure.
My older sister, whose svelte body had not yet been ravaged by the horrors of pregnancy, said I needed to regain control, find strength in moderation, and suggested I seek spiritual guidance. But my sister was not referring to Jesus; she was referring to my Inner Skinny. The WWJD mantra was replaced by WWSD—What Would Skinny-girl Do?
I let vanity rear its ugly head. I stared longingly at a picture of my bikini-clad self in St. Lucia on my honeymoon—belly ring and all. I marveled at a slope-side photo of me dressed like Nanuk of the North—looking rather slender despite the puffy layers. And in moments of absolute, sheer desperation, I pulled out a picture of me from my baby shower. It’s the one where I closely resemble Mama Cass—not Mama Madonna.
Guess what? Visual trickery…I mean visual imagery worked! I traded deprivation and binging for moderation and consistency and joined a first time marathon-training group. Over a long, exhausting six months of training, I ran that big-booty-Judy right into the ground, and completed my first marathon, my 11-month-old daughter waiting at the finish.
When I looked at my finish line photograph, I saw a fit, strong, beautiful young mother, me—not Skinny-girl. After 26.2 miles, I realized not only did I shed the pounds I gained during pregnancy; I also shed the disparaging, false image of myself. Skinny-girl would never have had the character, strength, or grace to run a marathon, much less raise a daughter. But I did.
I loved the new/old me so much that I went on to have three more children. Even though I shunned all food that could be handed through a window, I still gained the same amount of weight. (About those genetics—to this day, I have never seen a photograph of my mother pregnant. Do you smell a cover-up?)
Making a commitment outside myself worked for me. Although I am not the ‘group therapy’ type, I found myself enjoying the support and company of my running group. I don’t remember the pain and sacrifice of training; all I remember is seeing my kids along the course waving signs that said “Go Mom! You’re a Rock Star!"
Now that’s inspiration!
Stefanie Generao is a writer working on her first young adult novel. When not commuting with her laptop, she mothers four children, attempts to save lives as a Trauma Nurse Practitioner, and runs a very, very slow marathon.